Throughout the early stages of this very strange presidential election, Donald Trump has made some outrageous comments that the professional pundit class — and most sane people — assumed would end his chances of winning. But with each outrageous comment, his poll numbers went up, not down.
Perhaps he was saying what a lot of people were thinking but were afraid to say. And he would not apologize and not be “bullied by those political correct forces in the mainstream media.”
It really doesn’t matter that the blanket reference to undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists” is simply inflammatory and wrong—not a lack of political correct restraint. He said it. Whatcha going to do about it?
His appeal, as best as one can guess, is a reaction to those voices of restraint, that say 'you can't say that.' He says what he wants and does not apologize. It is based on his persona as a tough guy who would not play by other people’s rules: Whether it was the mainstream media, the Republican establishment or even the right wing friendly media of Fox News. He was going to set the agenda, not anyone else.
But Trump may have irreperably damaged his chances following his second place finish in Iowa. After a brief flirtation with humility in a speech Monday night where he attempted to paint his second place finish as a victory, Trump lashed out at Ted Cruz, claiming on his Twitter account that Cruz stole his victory in Iowa and calling for another vote according to a Reuters story. Really.
What did Cruz do? According to Reuters, Trump accused him of “lying about [Trump’s] opinion of President Barack Obama's healthcare program.”
Geez, this is politics. Remember all the claims of “Death Panels.”
Trump also accused Cruz of fraud based on an email Cruz’s campaign sent that indicated that Dr. Ben Carson was suspending his campaign. The email urged Carson supporters to caucus for Ted Cruz. Cruz later apologized to Carson for the email.
At best, or worst, this is a garden variety dirty trick, yet Reuters reported that Trump, in a tweet, called for “either a new election or Cruz results nullified.”
One would expect things to get much tougher as the election plays out.
A lot of media pundits and Republican strategists have been perplexed by Trump’s appeal. Many claim that he is not a true conservative, so how can he be leading in polls of Republican primary voters? It seems pretty clear that his appeal is based more on attitude than on policy. A tough guy attitude that says, ‘I am not going to play by your rules. I am not going to apologize for what I say,’ even when it is inflammatory and has been proven to be false.
He claims to be a winner and often derides his opponents and critics as losers. That plays to a certain segment of the electorate. But, winners win; they don’t make excuses and don’t call for do-overs after they lose. What doesn’t play is whining. Especially whining over relatively standard political hardball.
Throughout this election Trump has displayed a pretty thin skin, but that has not harmed him as it caused him to go on the offensive. It probably harmed him in refusing to attend the last debate before the Iowa primary in a battle with Fox anchor Megyn Kelly.
What this reaction indicates and seems to reveal is that Trump is a lightweight. Someone so insulated from criticism and or challenges to his point-of-view that he screams “unfair” when he doesn’t get what he wants.
That is not the persona that pushed Trump to the top of the polls. It is a revelation so foreign to the carefully crafted narrative that has worked so successfully for Trump that it could be fatal to his campaign. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in “A League of their Own,” there is no crying in politics.
Perhaps Trump will simply take his ball and go home.
What does this have to do with markets? Not a lot. Though Trump's surge reminds me of a market move that was missed by most analysts. The analysts claim something is amiss because 'the fundamentals don't justify the move.' Really they just didn't see it. Most folks didn't foresee Trump's early success, but if his popularity wanes from here, we will know why.